On the anniversary of the Iraq war in the DR Congo Bosco Ntaganda, known as the ‘terminator’, was arrested by the ICC for crimes including enlisting child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery among a total of 10 war crimes charges. This also includes crimes against humanity.
While we reflect on the Iraq war however a situation exists where a major global power in America will not be tried for possible war crimes. In the aftermath of their 2004 attack on Fallujah various sources including the Independent and Global Research have reported how cancer rates have soared aswell as the occurrence of grotesque and tragic birth defects and malformations. In a study entitled Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009 Dr Busby of the University of Ulster found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. Many people argue that the use of white phosphorous and, most likely, depleted uranium clearly contravenes the Geneva conventions within international law on the use of incendiary or chemical weapons. Specifically those with a lasting impact in civilian areas.
Yet while the ICC pursue war criminals in Africa it has taken legal action against their the UK ally in the war by the families of Iraqi victims themselves to seek effective justice because the United States has boycotted the ICC. This can be seen as a result of the inherent contradiction between their traditional isolationist approach to global issues in the area of international diplomacy and extensive use of indirect or direct military force. When The Guardian revealed the involvement of the Pentagon and US Colonel James Steele – a veteran of America’s essentially criminal involvement in places such as El Salvador – in Iraqi torture centres the implications of America’s self isolation from international law are particularly shocking. If the world’s most powerful nations remain silent on their own crimes then it surely renders the concept of international law and justice void.
To avoid solely focusing on the US however, we have to recognize that other nations such as China are also similarly guilty. It has most recently supplied weapons to Sudan used in the Darfur genocide. Though this can be argued to not be a war crime it is ultimately directly contributing to others. It also clearly contravened the UN’s arms embargo placed on Sudan. The ability of China to violate it points to a key problem with UN arms embargo’s. This is that many states have not even made violating an embargo a criminal offence in domestic law. This is also case of where the commercial, political or other strategic interests of any one member of the UN Security Council means a decision to impose an arms embargo on a particular regime or armed group is not tabled or agreed. In addition The Washington Post has revealed in October 2010 how China has attempted to both sabotage a UN probe into war crimes in Burma. In addition they have attempted to block a report on their own involvement in Sudan.
From 2003 to 2006, the period covering the worst abuses by Sudanese government forces in Darfur, China sold over $55 million worth of small arms to Khartoum. Simultaneously from 1997 onwards there was a rise in oil exports to China as Sudanese military expenditure dramatically increased. The issue is also no doubt complicated by the very fact that China and USA are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Ultimately the nations who have the most power inevitably have the greatest influence and therefore responsibility. It takes the most genuine use of that responsibility for them to face their own crimes. When a countries own ideals, at their most patriotic, often espouse an element of bravery, justice and strong will it is surely the bravest act to face their own crimes. It is the very antithesis to use this power to negatively influence, ignore or oppose international law.